Snowtown

Snowtown-DVDThe Snowtown murders (aka The Bodies in Barrels Murders) occurred in South Australia between 1992-1999. The main perpetrator John Bunting, recruited various friends and acquaintances to assist in the disposing of undesirable types such as paedophiles, homosexuals and junkies. Their victims were often subjected to prolonged torture with assorted household implements and electrocution before death. Newcomer Justin Kurzel with his cast of untrained actors has attempted to bring the crimes back to life with his first feature film, Snowtown.

The opening scenes are all about establishing the grim atmosphere that is to pervade the following 2 hours and they do so effortlessly, capturing that hopelessly scummy feel of the welfare-reliant hordes. We are introduced to Jamie Vlassakis, his brothers and their solo mum Elizabeth, essentially poor white trash living in a rundown area of suburban Australia. Not long after their mother leaves them with a neighbour, who subsequently abuses and takes nude photographs of the boys, friendly John Bunting starts hanging around the house and eventually becomes Elizabeth’s live-in boyfriend.

The first thing John makes clear is that he fucking hates paedophiles, so with the boys help (and some mashed ‘roo offal) he terrorizes the aforementioned neighbour into moving. Regular gatherings are held at Elizabeth’s home where John riles up the locals with his scathing anti-paedo rhetoric and attempts to provoke them into action. The murders seemingly begin as a continuation of John’s heroic vigilantism, merely dispatching local kiddie fiddlers, but then degenerate into frenzied lust-murders as John starts taking out acquaintances and generally anyone who gets in his way.

An interesting aspect of how the director handled this story is that it is told from Jamie’s perspective; we witness his struggles with first identifying a father figure in Bunting then being forced to assist with the killings, including that of his step-brother. Another unexpected angle is that the film is less concerned with gruesome, splatter-y serial murder and more about the mundane human side of it. So there are numerous scenes of familial blandness, which add infinitely to the overall bleak mood. And that’s not to say there aren’t confronting scenes of torture and violence, but that when they do appear they have that much more impact.

Utilizing an unprofessional cast (aside from Daniel Henshall who plays Bunting) was an astute foresight on Kurzels behalf, as the film would have been completely laughable had it starred the usual suspects from Neighbours, Home and Away, etc. Kurzel’s attention to detail in reproducing the dated ’90s fashion, having a Sega Master System constantly chirping away in the background, and references to swish new Nike Air’s enhances the already vivid ambiance as well.

With Snowtown director Justin Kurzel has crafted an incredibly dark and authentic piece of filmmaking that, via evocative cinematography, sparse sound design and flawless acting – and without resorting to over-the-top shock tactics – manages to infuse the proceedings with a harsh tone of realism that will stay with you long after the screen’s gone black.

Highly recommended viewing, ranks right up there along with such hard-hitting Aussie fare as Boxing DayAlexandra’s Project or The Boys.

Extras

Extras-wise, aside from the requisite commentary, trailer and deleted scenes, there’s a short film, Blue Tongue, that stars a young Sianoa Smit-McPhee (Neighbours, Hung) as a vindictive little girl trying to attract a boys attention. There’s also 2 music videos directed by Kurzel for The Mess Hall, a short featurette on the Snowtown Murders and a 20 minute interview with the director.

Snowtown is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Madman Entertainment.

A Field in England

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It is the 17th century, and the English Civil War rages on with all the grime and viciousness peculiar to civil wars. The film opens with a cleric named Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) hiding under a bush and praying to God to spare him. When his pursuer is killed, Whitehead takes the opportunity to flee from the battle and takes up with two other deserters – the simple Friend (Richard Glover) and the more pragmatic Jacob (Peter Ferdinando). Whitehead’s mission was to reclaim some stolen property belonging to his master, but this is rapidly forgotten as the three go looking for an alehouse. They are joined by another runaway soldier, Cutler (Ryan Pope) who claims to know the location of an alehouse, and offers them a meal of mushroom stew. All but Whitehead partake, and it becomes rapidly clear that the mushrooms were not of the ordinary sort. Cutler, it transpires, is working for an Irish alchemist and necromancer named O’Neill (Michael Smiley) who is an ex-fellow-student of Whitehead’s and intends to use the stupefied men as slave labour, uncovering a treasure he believes is buried in the titular field. Continue reading

Cherry.

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Brian Cherry (writer and producer David Crane) is a sad, lonely young man whose shyness (he prefers to consider this his “morals”) prevent him from connecting with women. When his more confident friend Sam (Rey Valentin) bribes the beautiful Jules (Lili Bordan) to strike up a conversation with him, his life is turned upside down. The two have an instant connection that feels like love to Cherry, but when Jules begins a simultaneous relationship with Sam, events are set in motion that will change all their lives forever. Continue reading

Howl

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A movie about a poem? Seems like a strange idea right, even with a poem as famous as Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl but this is more than just a movie about a poem, this is a movie about an era, a trial and the burgeoning beat writers movement, with Ginsberg as the central figure, the glue to hold it all together.

Howl was arguably the launching pad for the beats, the moment when a new voice and a new distinct style was heard but Ginsberg and the others weren’t really prepared for the uproar it would create. In 1957 City Lights Press and publisher/poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti were taken to court for obscenity and this film is as much about the trial and free speech as it is about Ginsberg (who incidentally wasn’t taken to court).

Filmed in a documentary style with Ginsberg played by James Franco (Pineapple Express, Freaks and Geeks) talking us through his life, interspersed with trial footage and stanzas from the poem itself, using colour, black and white and animation, the film surprisingly keeps a fair pace, never really dropping away, and considering it’s essentially a bunch of talking heads, that is no mean feat.

The only problem I really had was the animated computer graphics used to illustrate the poem, that damn near derailed the movie for me but I just turned away when the dumb ass stuff came up. Why do that when you have an actor the caliber of Franco holding the film together? Even if he does occasionally look like a bespectacled Adam Ant he was still such a strong presence that the animation just looked stupid in comparison.

Will this movie make converts? I don’t know, it is after all a bunch of talking heads and in this day and age that might not be enough. But for those with an interest in the beats, in Ginsberg, in poetry, this is a no brainer, you need it. For those perhaps curious about what all the fuss was about, well this is the second place to go, after you’ve bought Howl which is still in print from City Lights.

Personally I always thought Allen Ginsberg was a touch overrated, now I’m not so sure, so I guess Howl has already got one convert. You might well be the next one.

There’s a bunch of extras including commentary, trailer, “Franco reads Howl”, “Ginsberg reads Howl”, the most interesting being Holy! Holy! Holy! – a great little 40 minute documentary about the making of the film, including such simple things as getting the sets right, the costumes, the filming… an interesting look behind the scenes.

Howl is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Love Exposure

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Wow. Some films try to cover a fair bit of ground. Love Exposure is more like some vast, country-spanning blanket. A four-hour movie both epic and perversely intimate, it takes on religion, sexual awakening, abuse, family, relationships…oh, and the art of kung fu upskirt photography.

The story follows Tokyo teenager Yu Honda (Takahiro Nishijima) through a period of self-discovery in his life. His mother dies, and his Catholic priest father falls for a morally-dubious woman. Left feeling abandoned, Yu decides to sin just to have an excuse to see his father in the confessional.

The sinning quickly escalates as Yu shows a remarkable aptitude for the art of taking clandestine photographs up the skirts of young women in public places – with the aid of cameras on elastic bands, cameras on remote control cars and acrobatics. This proves too much for his father, who casts him out just as Yu has a passing encounter with the girl of his dreams, abuse-survivor Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima). The problem? Yu met her while dressed in drag and now is forced to pretend to be a woman in order to be close to her.

Amazingly, that synopsis is only the tip of the iceberg. But rather than become a mess, this instead is a delirious ride that manages to blend introspection with giddy entertainment.

Director Sono Shion is best known for Suicide Club (2001), a satiric swipe at youth culture in Japan. With Love Exposure he takes on a larger palette of more universal themes. Yu is lost without his parents and seeks somewhere – anywhere – to belong. Yet all he really wants is the reunification of family. His father is torn between the lure of sex and the tenets of his religious devotion. Yoko is driven by hatred, yet desperate for love. Above them all is the temptation of a religious cult, of a place where they can give up responsibility or choice…but is it true happiness or just delusion?

There are a lot of elements to juggle in the 237 minutes of running time and for the most part, Sono Shion does a remarkable job by keeping the focus tight and following Yu through an often bizarre series of events. Perhaps things become a bit muddy in the final act and some of the thematic issues raised to not get wrapped up perfectly, but that is only a minor quibble against such an enjoyable film.

A rare beast that manages to be layered and thought-provoking, more than anything Love Exposure is just a damn lot of fun.

Available on R4 DVD from Madman.

 

Mother

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Do-joon (Bin Won) has a widowed mother (Hye-ja Kim) who is utterly devoted to him. He may be simple, but he’s all she has and she works hard to support them both. Doting and protective, she only wants the best for him.

Then, one night, a local schoolgirl is found brutally murdered and the evidence found at the scene points to Do-joon, who has no memory of the night. Naive and easily confused, he is quickly taken into custody and ends up confessing to the killing.

But his mother is not so easily convinced and begins a one-woman campaign to find the truth about the murder and clear her son’s name…no matter what it takes. Continue reading

Rampart [Blu-ray]

Rampart

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Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) is an LA cop in 1999. Confident and brash, he doles out his own brand of justice on the bad guys, doing whatever he sees fit in order to get the job done. A quick-talker, nothing sticks to him, not even his alleged killing of a rapist that earned him the nickname “Date Rape”.

But one day after his car is hit by another, he is filmed dealing out a brutal beating on the other driver. With the police force already rocked by the Rampart Scandal, Brown becomes a scapegoat and finds out that, even for him, there are situations you cannot talk your way out of.

Rampart is written primarily by James Ellroy, the novellist known for his terse style and gritty crime stories. Ellroy’s most successful dalliance with film was 1997’s L.A. Confidential, a stylised adaptation of his 1990 period noir novel. But Rampart is a very different beast. Continue reading

Upside Down

Upside-DownWhen it comes to high concept, they don’t get much higher than the premise behind Upside Down. The setting is pure fantasy – two worlds with opposite gravity, yet so close as to touch. In one ‘up above’, the populace is wealthy and live in splendour, while ‘down below’ all are poor and struggle in squalor. None can swap over, because you retain your own gravity, even when in the other world.

Into this somewhat heavy-handed social metaphor come the classic star-crossed lovers. As a child, Adam (Jim Sturgess) is hunting in the mountains of Down Below for pink bee pollen, a critical ingredient in his aunt’s legendary floating pancakes when he climbs so high he sees Eden (Kirsten Dunst), a girl from Up Above looking for her missing dog. The pair immediately fall in love and grow up together.

Naturally, their clandestine meetings are interrupted and an accident sees Eden plummet to her apparent death. Distraught, Adam goes on with his life, where his experiments with the bee pollen show potential anti-gravity applications until one day, on a TV show, he sees Eden, alive. She is now an employee of Transworld, a mega corporation whose central skyscraper runs between the two worlds, using resources of Down Below to fuel Up Above. Continue reading

Animal Kingdom

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Australian cinema is in the middle of something of a resurgence lately, with films across a wide variety of genres gaining international recognition and new voices rising to be heard. One of the most promising of these is David Michod on the strength of his powerhouse debut, crime drama Animal Kingdom.

“Crooks always come undone. Always. One way or another.” So says J (newcomer James Frecheville) in his narration early on in Animal Kingdom as he is brought into his criminally-active extended family. And so the story goes – in an inexorable, if not always totally predictable, downward spiral to betrayal and death.

After his mother overdoses on heroin, J moves in with his grandmother, ‘Smurf’ (Jacki Weaver) and his four uncles, Barry (Joel Edgerton), Darren (Luke Ford), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and the absent Andrew ‘Pope’ (Ben Mendelsohn). When the police investigation of the fugitive Pope reaches boiling point, the family decides they need to react and the young J is caught in the middle.

In many ways, Animal Kingdom is a standard crime movie. You have the family, revenge, in-fighting and the usual escalation of events. But what elevates it is that Michod keeps the whole movie grounded in reality. With its casual Melbourne setting, unassuming costumes and low-key conversational tone, this feels like a familiar place – an underworld barely beneath the surface of any suburb. It is an approach that makes it all the more affecting. Continue reading

Scorsese: My Voyage Through Italian Cinema

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Scorsese: My Voyage Through Italian Cinema is a 7 disc box set that gives the viewer a small taste of Italian cinema. This collection combines films from the greats such as Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica and Michelangelo Antonioni. By all means this collection makes only a small dent in the genre as the films of Roberto Rossellini, Cesare Zavattini and Giuseppe De Santis do not appear in this set, (these directors are also considered to be among the major figures in Italian Neorealism). Fear not as Scorsese indulges the viewer in his 246 minute look at Italian films titled My Voyage to ItalyMy Voyage to Italy showcases many films that do not appear in this set, and apart from that is a very interesting watch as Scorsese muses about the profound affect many of these films had on him as a child and how many of these films have inspired his own films. Continue reading